What we find attractive in a prospective partner doesn't just say a lot about our own peculiar fixations and fetishes – it also reflects, at least in part, broader cultural values and ideologies. That's the conclusion of a new analysis of secret photos taken of "hot male commuters" on the London Underground.
Researchers from Coventry and Aberystwyth universities analysed photos of men submitted to TubeCrush, a compilation of unsolicited photos taken on the Tube, and found that heterosexual women and gay men are both drawn to a particular type of man – despite the increased acceptance of different versions of masculinity in society.
By looking at types of images submitted to the site and the accompanying comments, the study, published in the journal Feminist Media Studies, concluded that muscles and money are still considered the sexiest male traits.
The abundance of photos of muscly biceps, pecs and bulging chests highlights the importance many people continue to place on a man's muscles and physical strength, the researchers concluded, with many commenters praising the oblivious man's "estimated sexual prowess" in the comments. Obvious signs of wealth were taken to be a flashy watch, an expensive suit or a smartphone, and even a casual browse of site reveals the sheer number of City banker types considered "hot". The photos submitted to the site also display a striking lack of diversity considering London's multicultural population – the vast majority of men on the site are white.
Judging from their submissions to the site, very few users seem to prize less traditionally masculine representations of modern manhood, such as fatherhood or bookishness. The researchers concluded: "White male privilege is still an attractive quality in men for many straight women and gay men," reported MailOnline.
Lead author Adrienne Evans, senior lecturer at Coventry University, said: "From smart-suited City workers to toned gym-goers flashing their flesh, the men featured in the photographs on TubeCrush show that as a culture we still celebrate masculinity in the form of money and muscle.
"They are marking the middle-class, wealthy, mobile and sexually powerful male body, not as a political one as feminists intend it to be, but one that should be actively desired."
While the celebration of masculine capital, she said, is "achieved through humour and the knowing wink", the outcome is a reaffirmation of men’s dominant position in society. "It’s a problem because although it appears as though we have moved forward, our desires are still mostly about money and strength."
While the findings of this study make for interesting – if dispiriting – reading, covertly photographing unsuspecting people going about their daily lives without trouble is never okay – whether that's women eating on the Tube or upskirting – and it's a wonder that TubeCrush has managed to keep running since 2011.